Bill Russell Forms Unlikely Team With Lakers to Fight Common Enemy It's not every day that the greatest Celtics player of all time is happily welcomed at an event in Beverly Hills which is filled from wall to wall with Lakers greats.

Then again, Bill Russell is not your everyday man.

The 11-time NBA champion, two-time NCAA champion and one-time Olympic gold medalist, now at the age of 75, was on hand at a celebrity dinner for The Harold Pump Foundation, an organization dedicated to fighting cancer.

In a room filled with folks who for years have considered him an enemy in green, Russell took the podium and immediately added those who bleed purple and gold to his fan base.

Russell talked about his wife, Marilyn Nault, who died in January after a long battle with cancer.

"In January, I lost my life partner," he was quoted as saying in The Los Angeles Times. "Now, any time I hear the word cancer, I feel sad."

Russell's sadness comes because his much of his time with Nault was spent laughing.

"All the time I was with her, we were having fun," he said. "We went on a trip, she was driving and handed me her glasses. She said they were smudged. I cleaned them off and handed them back to her. She put them on, looked at me and said, 'My God, you're black.'"

Though the event, which raised $1 million to fight cancer, was for a serious cause, Russell was able to artfully mix in his humor. He said he's not a fan of the lists of the best NBA players of all time.

"I'm always No. 8 or No. 9, and I always want to ask them to take any two of the players above me and I'll match rings with the pair," he said with a laugh.

Still, Russell spoke of the respect he had for Magic Johnson and the Lakers of the '80s, saying they were the only team other than the Celtics that he ever watched with regularity. However, Russell proved he hadn't switched sides of the rivalry, telling Magic, "But we'd still have beaten you."

Many years after his playing days, the man from Monroe, La., has never forgotten how much playing for the Celtics changed his life.

"I could not go to heaven once I left the Celtic locker room," Russell said, "because any place outside of that is a step down."

Not known for being open to anyone in public, Russell spoke more candidly than perhaps he ever has about his wife.

"She was the great gift that God gave me, and cancer took that away," he said. "I'm wounded by that. I'll never be the same."

He's not alone — after his memorable speech in Southern California, nobody in that room will ever be able to look at him the same.